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It Took A Riot – Dispatches from Quarantine – Michael J. Moore

It Took A Riot

By Michael J. Moore

You may know my name from the recent articles being published pertaining to the COVID-19 situation at Monroe Correctional Facility or you may be a horror fan and recognize my name Michael J Moore from my many articles and books or from the Preliminary Ballot of the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards 2019.   Whichever it is, my aim, as a Latino author and writer, is to write and at the moment, I’d like my voice and those of my fellow inmates to be heard through my writing.  I am also now suffering from COVID-19 and worried what might actually happen to myself and my fellow inmates.

I’ve written a series of articles on COVID-19.  I attach a copy of It Took a Riot for your consideration.


Some guards are angry. Some are pouting. A small handful, however, are being good sports about having been ordered by their superiors to cover their faces while at work.

I’m thinking:

It’s a shame it took a riot to make this happen.

The Monroe Correctional Complex (“MCC”) is one of the oldest prisons in Washington State, and the structure does nothing to conceal its age. A tour within the confines of its fifty-foot concrete wall, and you feel like you’ve been teleported back through time, and ejected into the courts of a medieval castle. Aesthetically, it’s a monument to everything that might scare you about prison, but those of us who live here know it as a safe haven, and a hub of positive programming and educational opportunities. The vast majority of MCC’s incarcerated population were sent here for protective custody, after being targeted by gangs in other facilities, and for this reason, serious violence is a rare occurrence.

Still, on April 8th 2020, I sat in my cell, listening to the cages rattle, as my neighbors screamed, pounded, and shook the bars. I watched, on my television, from an aerial view of the yard, a crowd of residents kneeling around the baseball diamond with their hands zip-tied behind their backs after a group demonstration turned aggressive. And though I, myself, didn’t participate, I can’t remember many times in my life that I’ve been more grateful than I was toward those who did, because like them, I don’t want to die.

The Washington State Department of Corrections’ website claims that they’ve taken precautions to halt the spread of Covid-19 in all their facilities. Though I don’t have access to the internet, I know this because MCC has been on the news every day for over a week. Here, those steps have involved suspending visitation and all programming (educational, religious, or otherwise), closing down parts of the facility, and limiting the number of individuals allowed in others. For the past month, these steps have confined the majority of us to our living units, which least enable social distancing.

And all the while, a lot of us have been thinking:

The guards are the only possible vessels in which Coronavirus could hitch a ride into our home. So why are they standing elbow to elbow, laughing, and whispering in each other’s ears? And why in the hell aren’t they wearing facemasks?

The media is calling prisons, petri dishes. They’re being compared to the cruise ships we all saw sailing off the coast of Florida with hundreds of infected and several dead on board because the close quarters provided an environment in which it was impossible for Coronavirus not to spread like fire on acetone. A couple of weeks ago, the incarcerated community in MCC received a memo, informing us that DOC staff were issued masks with the option of wearing them. Most opted not to wear them, so naturally, people got sick. Some of us wrote grievances, receiving only vague and evasive responses. I asked one guard in the dining-hall why he refused to wear his mask, in light of the death which he could be unknowingly introducing into my community, and he smiled as he responded:

“Man, I’m just trying to spread the love.”

And I was thinking:

Oh yeah, they don’t view us as human. Why would they care if they kill us?

It doesn’t seem to matter that MCC is unique amongst prisons, in that a high percentage of its residents have turned their backs on self-destructive lifestyles, choosing instead, to invest their time and energies into education and other modes of rehabilitation. The mentality seems to be:

Fuck ’em. If they die, they die.

So as time passed, people continued to get sick, and on the evening of April 8th nonlethal weapons were deployed in the yard because a crowd of residents decided the long stretch in segregation that they’ll now be sentenced to, is favorable over being murdered by Washington State Department of Corrections staff. Every one of them was housed in the Minimum Security Unit, and set to be released in under four years. With the loss of good-conduct-time, which results in participating in a group demonstration, every one of their release dates will now be postponed. But the incident received national attention, and the guards in MCC were ordered to wear facemasks.

So now I’m thinking:

Why are some guards still not wearing them?

Last night, when somebody asked one who was working in my unit that very question, I stood at my bars and listened closely as he replied:

“I’m hoping one of you writes a grievance on me, so I’ll get suspended and get some time off work.”

And I was wondering:

Why should I have to write a grievance? Shouldn’t he be fired on the spot for not complying with an order intended to keep him from killing me? 


If it took a riot the first time, what’s it going to take now? 

But mostly, I’m thinking: 

I wish I could thank the heroes.


Michael J Moore’s books include Highway Twenty, which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award and the bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington.  His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies and magazines and has been adapted for theater. Follow him at or

Originally Published at Dispatches from Quarantine

May 20, 2020
Monroe, Washington
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Meet the City’s new Poet Laureate at S.F. Creative Writing Institute!

The San Francisco Creative Writing Institute is proud to announce that our own Tongo Eisen-Martin has been named as the next Poet Laureate of San Francisco.

Mayor London Breed and City Librarian Michael Lambert made the announcement on Friday that Tongo, a native of Bernal Heights who’s taught poetry at the S.F. Creative Writing Institute for the past year, will become the eighth artist to hold the two-year honor. He was nominated by a nine-member Selection Committee and will succeed Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, who’s also taught poetry at the S.F. Creative Writing Institute.

Tongo is the founder of Black Freighter Press and his book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, Pocket Poet series), received a 2018 American Book Award, the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry, and was short-listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Born and raised in San Francisco, he spent his childhood at the Western Addition Cultural Center, now the African American Arts and Culture Complex, and writes of organizing poetry circles in the Tenderloin, Bayview-Hunters Point and Sunnydale and recruiting and nurturing artists from the city’s marginalized communities.

“I and my poetry are an absolute product of every nook and cranny of San Francisco. It is the city’s cultural institutions, chartered in ink, demonstration, spirit, and bloodline, that taught me how to relate to the world,” he said. “As deep into the various communities of the city as our poets have already brought the craft, I want to push even further into places where poetry has not yet permeated. Give poetry even more of a mass personality; as mass participation has always been the staple of what could be described as San Francisco futurism.”

Tongo is an educator who has taught at detention centers around the country and at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, where his curriculum on the extrajudicial killing of Black people, “We Charge Genocide Again!” has been used as an educational and organizing tool throughout the country. His not-yet-titled second book in the City Lights Pocket Poet series will be released in the fall of 2021. He was also a Poet-in-Residence at Cambridge University.
“I’m thrilled to see Mr. Eisen-Martin receive this recognition, as he is among the most exciting poets of a generation and we are so lucky to have him here in San Francisco,” said City Librarian Michael Lambert. “He will be a remarkable and inspiring Poet Laureate, a perfect and outstanding addition to our city’s long and flourishing literary tradition.”

Come meet the new Poet Laureate this month! 

Tongo is holding a $30 Drop-In Poetry Workshop on January 25. Our monthly Drop-in Poetry Workshops are one-off, three-hour sessions taught by a variety of talented instructors with different styles and themes. Poets of all levels are invited to join us for inspiration, lessons & techniques, generative prompts, sharing and feedback. 

Drop-ins are a great way to get a sense of different instructors’ styles before committing to a longer workshop, or for some spontaneous support and encouragement. Whether you’re new to poetry or a published poet, our drop-in workshops are a great way to connect with a thriving writing community online. 

To attend this workshop, book your seats now ( and to sign up for one of Tongo’s classes with us, click here



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Landing a Literary Agent

By Nick Mamatas

The best way to find agents is by starting with writers who have recently commercially published something similar to your own book. Use search engines, or the acknowledgment pages of their books, to create a list of twenty-five agents

Then break that list of 25 into 5 groups of 5, based basically on how important/prominent the agents are. Do whatever those five agents say—if they want a query or sample chapters or whatever, just comply. They’ll probably want slightly different things.

Six weeks later, hit the second list of five. Six weeks after that, the next five.

After the second draft, you’ll probably start getting answers. Some may ask for the whole ms on “exclusive”—90 days or so to think about it. If the agent is very good, give it to them. If not, keep on sending more packages out.

While you are doing this, work on your next book, as the response you get from an agent might just be, “Not this one, but do you have anything else?” And you want to be able to answer “YES.”

If at the end of 25 agents you get 25 form rejections, something is dreadfully wrong with your book. If you get a lot of positive responses, but no agent, take a little break and try again with that second book. If you got an agent, you have an agent!

Now as far as agents go, good agents:

  • generally speaking, have a New York office
  • have clients you’ve heard of
  • have clients whose books you can find by walking into a Barnes and Noble and looking (and you should go to a B&N and look)
  • are enthusiastic about you, not just about the single book you are pitching
  • do not also work for or as a packager
  • do not charge reading fees or any other out-of-pocket expenses except perhaps for international mailing of published books to foreign agents or publishers—and those charges will be subtracted from foreign sales monies
  • do not generally charge more than 15% commission
  • have no independent interest in your stuff—that is, they’re not also a film producer and want to make a side deal with you, etc.

*Nick Mamatas originally published this on his FB page to help out fellow writers. We asked him for permission to publish it here because we thought it was good advice.